What Is The National Quality Standard (NQS) For Childcare?

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As a parent, you want to make sure that the early childhood education and care service that you choose for your little one provides the best possible level of service. With so many different service providers out there, it can often be difficult to understand how they compare to one another, which is how the National Quality Standards (NQS) came to be.

All NQS-approved childcare services are provided with a rating under the NQS. You can use this rating to make informed decisions about your child’s education and care. So, if you’re wondering what is the NQS in childcare, here’s how it works.

Understanding the role of the NQS standards

The National Quality Standards (NQS) is a quality rating system that’s used as a benchmark to measure the quality of early childhood education and care services across Australia. The NQS standards are a key facet of the National Quality Framework (NQF), which was developed by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, or ACECQA for short.

Several different types of early childhood education and care services operate under the NQF, including:

  • Long day care,
  • Family day care,
  • Preschool or kindergarten (excluding Tasmania and WA), and
  • Outside school hours care.

There are some ‘Out of Scope' childcare services that aren’t covered by the NQF, including some occasional care providers, holiday resort childcare and mobile childcare services to name a few. Although some of these Out of Scope services are generally covered by state or territory regulations, others aren’t. If you’re concerned, you should be able to check with the care provider or your relevant state or territory authority. 

Under the NQS, service providers are assessed against the following seven quality areas:

  1. Educational program and practice,
  2. Children’s health and safety,
  3. Physical environment,
  4. Staffing arrangements,
  5. Relationships with children,
  6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities, and
  7. Governance and leadership.

Each of these quality areas includes two or three standards that describe important NQS outcomes that contribute to the overall standard being achieved. Based on the service’s results against each of the seven quality areas and their respective outcomes, they’re provided with an overall rating.

The NQS ratings

Service providers are provided with a rating for each of the seven quality areas. Based on their performance, they’re then provided with one of the following overall ratings:

  • Excellent: Service promotes exceptional education and care, demonstrates sector leadership and is committed to continually improving.
  • Exceeding National Quality Standard: Service goes beyond the requirements of the National Quality Standard in at least 4 of the 7 quality areas, with at least two of these being quality areas 1, 5, 6 or 7.
  • Meeting National Quality Standard: The service meets the National Quality Standard and provides quality education and care in all 7 quality areas. 
  • Working Towards National Quality Standard: The service provides a safe education and care program but there are 1 or more areas identified for improvement.
  • Significant Improvement Required: The service does not meet 1 of the 7 quality areas or a section of the legislation and there is a significant risk to the safety, health and wellbeing of children. The regulatory authority will take immediate action.

Ratings must be displayed at the service at all times. In addition to the rating certificate, services can also display their respective NQS rating logo. The final NQS ratings are published on StartingBlocks.gov.au as well as the national registers, which provide up-to-date information about approved education and care services and providers.


The NQS rating process

The NQS rating process not only allows service providers to reflect on their own performance against the NQS, but it also provides valuable constructive feedback from an independent, external body detailing their strengths and areas for improvement. 

Services are assessed and rated by the state or territory regulatory authority. Approved providers of new services will receive a letter informing them that an assessment and rating process will typically occur 9-18 months after the service begins operating.

Self-assessment and quality improvement (ongoing)

Approved early childhood education and care providers are required to self-assess the quality of their current practices against the NQS and the relevant regulatory requirements.

As part of this assessment, approved providers should identify their strengths and areas for improvement, which are then documented in the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). The QIP is uploaded to the NQA ITS or any other jurisdictional-specific submission process. For new services, this must occur within 3 months of receiving a service approval.

Notice of the start of the rating process (week 1)

Regulatory authorities generally provide approved providers with 1-5 days' notice that a site visit will occur. When giving notice, the regulatory authority will consider the context of the service and whether the regulatory authority is reasonably satisfied that typical practice can be observed at the service on the visit day.

For partial assessments that don’t require a visit, the regulatory authority may provide 1-5 days' notice that a conversation will occur instead of a visit.

Assessments and ratings that are launched in response to compliance issues may commence without notice. 

Information gathering

The regulatory authority may also contact the approved provider at this stage to provide information in writing, by phone or by video conference. 


If it’s considered necessary, the regulatory authority will pay a visit to the service.

Feedback on draft report (3-5 weeks after the visit)

The regulatory authority provides the approved provider with a draft assessment and rating report. The provider can give feedback on any factual inaccuracies in the report and evidence to support feedback.

Final report and notice of final ratings issued to provider

The regulatory authority considers any feedback before the final report is issued. The approved provider may choose to apply for a review of final ratings within the set review period.

Ratings published

Last but not least, once the review period has ended, the final ratings are published on the national registers, StartingBlocks.gov.au and they must be displayed at the service at all times.

Why is the NQS important?

The NQS offers a range of benefits to children and their families. It plays a key role in ensuring the wellbeing, development and safety of children in early childhood education and care settings. Plus, it sets out a high national benchmark for education and care services to strive for. 

Are you looking for high-quality early childhood education and care services in your area? Use our childcare search tool to find and compare local providers based on a variety of factors, including their NQS rating. You can even filter the results based on their NQS rating.

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